And now the continuation of the dramatic story of The Siege of Fort Anthony. You may read Part I of the story here.
Bright and early at 7:30 in the morning of Saturday, February 8th, 1964 an ominous procession of Los Angeles County Sheriff’s patrol cars made the turn off Highland Avenue and on to the short little stub of Alta Loma Terrace across from the Hollywood Bowl. Any question of the purpose of their visit was quickly answered as the last vehicle, a large moving van, made the turn on to Alta Loma. This sinister little parade, of course, had not gone unnoticed by the occupant of 6655 Alta Loma Terrace. Steve Anthony had long known this day was coming and was prepared to meet it head on, converting the quaint little hilltop cottage into a defacto fortress of barred doors and windows, “Fort Anthony,” as it was soon dubbed by the press. And behind the barricaded front door of Fort Anthony stood a resolute Steve Anthony – a gleaming 12-gauge shotgun in his hands. And he was quite prepared to use it.
Naturally, he had hoped it wouldn’t have come to this. For months, Anthony, aided by his attorney Paul Hill, had vigorously fought his family’s eviction in the courts using whatever means they could no matter how scant their legal reasoning might have seemed. And they tried it all – (1) they couldn’t find a reasonable replacement house with what the County had offered; (2) Anthony’s daughter was ill and should not be moved at this time; (3) the home was a historic treasure and was “filled with memories and relics of Mary Pickford, Doug Fairbanks, Jane Powell” and could not be replaced; (4) the $11,500 offered by the County was far below the home’s true appraised value; (5) the condemnation proceeding were illegal because the museum was a “private enterprise” rather than for “public necessity” – whatever might stick, but nothing did. Each and every time, Anthony’s claims were shot down by the courts. Undaunted, he and Hill vowed to continue fighting all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court if they had to. The County, Sol Lesser and the Museum Committee, of course, had no intention of waiting that long to get the museum going. Here it was already February and aside from that one spade of earth little Richard Powell had turned last October not one single brick had been put in place on the grand new civic project. And people were starting to get nervous. Clearly, the Anthonys needed to go and they needed to go now.
As they stepped out of their squad cars that February morning, the dozen Sheriff’s deputies knew to expect trouble and they came prepared – with teargas canisters at the ready. But even before they made it up the steps, Steve Anthony dealt them a stunning surprise that halted them in their tracks. There he was, clearly visible in an upstairs window, a shotgun in one hand and a baby in the other. The deputies may have been prepared for the shotgun, but the baby was another matter altogether. It was soon learned that Anthony was far from alone in the cottage. With him behind the barricaded doors were his wife Elona, aged 22 and their three small children who ranged in age from 2 ½ to just 5 months. Also in the group were Mrs. Anthony’s elderly parents and their 14 year-old daughter Naomi. A house full of children and elderly parents was a logistical nightmare for the Sheriffs and put a real crimp in any plans to storm the house using force and teargas. And then came perhaps even worse news (for the Sheriffs, that is) – the press – who immediately began swarming about with questions, microphones and cameras and like the Anthonys, they weren’t going anywhere.
Before long the whole scene had taken on something of a circus atmosphere with a steadily growing crowd of bystanders mingling about and watching the standoff as it continued to unfold. For hours, as an agitated Anthony popped in and out of the window of the old cottage waving his shotgun and shouting demands, deputies in riot gear responded with threats delivered by bullhorn and telephone, but he defiantly held his ground yelling out that he would hurt anyone who tried to harm his family with teargas.“I’m perfectly willing to die for this,” he shouted. “A man has to die for something he believes in.”
Five hours into the showdown there was much excitement when the Anthony’s family priest, Father Mark Falvey of Hollywood’s Blessed Sacrament, arrived and was admitted through the barricaded door of Ft. Anthony. Only five minutes later, however, the door opened again and out emerged a defeated Father Falvey, having been unable to convince Anthony to give up the fight. Finally, after a tense and fruitless seven-hour standoff, the Sheriff’s Office threw in the towel, at least temporarily, standing down and granting the Anthonys their demand for a one week extension to file an appeal with the California Supreme Court. Once he received assurances no further attempt would be made to evict him that day or for the rest of the week, Anthony allowed a delegation of Sheriff’s officials into the confines of Fort Anthony and showed them his 12-gauge shotgun had been unloaded the whole time. Well, not exactly the whole time. “My father-in-law told me to unload the gun hours ago,” he told them. “If he wasn’t here, I would have used it on anyone who came in.”
The dramatic seven hour standoff to remove Steve Anthony and his family from their condemned home on Alta Loma Terrace had proven to be a tactical and public relations disaster for the County Sheriff’s office made infinitely worse by the fact it had all gone down live on local television. Angelenos were fascinated by the story with many seeing it in David & Goliath terms; an honest and decent “little guy” (an ex-Marine who had honorably served his nation no less and his attractive and photogenic family) boldly standing up to the brutish/heartless/soulless/greedy corporate/government interests attempting to illegally and immorally take away his American dream. That the cold reality was Anthony really didn’t have a legal leg to stand on mattered not one bit to many observers who saw this as an abuse of the eminent domain process and an overreach of government power. Anthony, of course, was more than glad to help with that perception, freely and frequently speaking with the press and making darn good copy in the process.
On Monday, a stunning and disturbing new development in the Siege of Fort Anthony came with the news that a group of about a dozen ex-Marines had banded together and declared their intention to “stand” with Anthony the next time the County tried to evict him. What exactly they meant by the term “stand with” Anthony was not entirely clear, but it sounded ominous enough to send the County into a state of semi hysterics. The following day, citing a fear of possible “bloodshed,” the L.A. County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to “re-evaluate” the condemnation proceedings against Anthony. “Let’s remember we’re just building a motion picture museum,” cautioned Supervisor Kenneth Hahn. Meanwhile Anthony managed to get his appeal filed with the California State Supreme Court. For now, it meant Anthony and his family could breathe a little easier for the first time in the two-year battle as no further action on eviction would or could be taken until the California Supreme Court had made its ruling.
Three weeks later they did. And it was not good news for Steve Anthony. With the rejection by the California Supreme Court of Anthony’s appeal, the County wasted no time in ordering him out, giving he and his family just 48 hours to vacate the house on Alta Loma. Anthony, however, had no such intention declaring “I’m not leaving!” And this time a dozen fellow ex-Marines would be “standing”with him if the Sheriff’s tried to force him out. And although he told them not to bring arms he added ominously that the decision would ultimately be up to them. As for Anthony himself, there would be no question about his bearing arms. “I’ll be waiting inside with my shotgun,” he declared defiantly. “The minute anyone tries breaking in, they will be in for one hell of a surprise.”
On the evening of Sunday, March 1st, as the eviction deadline arrived, Anthony and his buddies milled about Fort Anthony talking and joking uneasily while keeping their eyes open for the approach of the Sheriff’s patrol cars. It was just the men as Anthony had wisely sent his wife and children to stay with relatives over in Burbank. Outside a hushed crowd of bystanders looked on as news crews began reporting “live” from the scene. No one had any idea what would happen, but everyone agreed it probably wouldn’t be good.
Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion of The Siege of Fort Anthony coming to a blog near you!